Learning from Trees
by Althea Serad
Member, Haribon Foundation
What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another. – Mahatma Gandhi
In this day and age, amongst all the modernity of civilisation, it’s hard to look outside and see, really see what’s happening with the current situation of the Philippine forests.
On December 7, 2013, I had this great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and actually do something for our forests. I and a couple of my friends joined one of Haribon Foundation’s tree planting activities in line with their Road to 2020 movement, a movement committed to restore the Philippine rainforests with native trees by the Year 2020.
Together with other volunteers, we were to plant 1,000 seedlings in Mt. Banahaw. Before we began our journey, there was a short introduction about the activity, and then the volunteers were divided into two groups. One group went to the higher part of the mountain, while the group I was with settled with the lower part. 500 seedlings were assigned to each group.
I can think of a list of 500 beautiful things about that experience, but 5 thoughts stood out.
These are what I learned from the trees:
1) Stop and smell the roses...or in this case, the air.
It was a long 1.5-hour trek going up to our planting site. There was unexpected rain before, during, and after the experience, making the trail up slippery and much harder to go through. I admit I haven’t prepared myself physically for the trek, but the amazing thing is...I felt lighter.
I know that there can be no other explanation than the amount of fresh air surrounding us. In the city, being surrounded by too much heat, smoke, and pollution, one would have hard time breathing. But the air in Mt. Banahaw is a welcome feeling to my lungs.
I was so engulfed by the feeling of gratitude towards trees for providing fresh air more so at that moment.
2) Patience is a virtue.
A cliché so well embodied by trees. A tree’s age is defined by the number of rings it has in its trunk, and some trees take a century to grow fully into a majestic size. Trees take their time growing, and we could really learn from this.
During the trek, I wanted badly to teleport and reach the planting site immediately. When I reached the site however, I wished that our destination was a little higher. Words cannot explain the feeling of seeing the view from the top of a mountain, and the feeling is even better when you know you reached that top using your own two feet. It’s hard to imagine that we live in a material world when you see the beauty of the trees from the top.
We cannot rush our lives, because each present moment shapes the quality of our future.
3) We have the power to change the world.
We started planting. We looked for sticks protruding from the ground beside seedlings wrapped around tiny garbage bags. We removed the bottom of the bags so the roots of the trees will have room to pass through when they grow.
While holding a seedling in your hand, you have two choices: (a) you can set it aside and let it remain a seedling; or (b) you can plant it and make that seedling grow. Knowing you have these choices is power, and with great power comes great responsibility.
A line from the famous poem ‘Trees’ by Joyce Kilmer reads: Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.
Yes, we cannot make trees, but we can sure plant them. This is the reason why volunteering is important. This threat of extinction of trees is a problem that people created, and it’s also a problem that only we people have the power to fix.
4) We are all connected to each other.
While the volunteers were planting, many of us experienced being bitten by leeches called ‘limatik’. It’s not so bad when you look past their appearance and texture. I never felt a single thing as the tiny creatures drank my blood. You just have to wash them away with alcohol and they just fall off your skin on their own.
It made me think what their purpose in life is, how they’re useful to the whole cycle of life when all they do is drink blood. While the ‘limatik’ has its purpose, trees also have purpose and benefits, countless benefits that I’m sure we wouldn’t be able to survive without.
While nature can survive without us and we can’t without nature, we still hold an important role to wildlife and trees. We are all accountable to one another, and it’s never too late to start a change in perspective about our role with trees.
5) There is no greater gift than giving.
Trees give unconditionally, and through the years we have forgotten to thank the trees for their generosity. This time we had the chance of giving back.
Though the whole journey was tiring, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t smile by the end. The feeling of having been able to give back to trees is satisfying.
We could really learn from the generosity of trees and start applying this to the people, animals, or plants in our lives.
The Philippines is blessed in more ways than we can imagine, and trees are one of them. But in the past and in the present, we cut down trees thinking they would grow by themselves. We have abused these blessings enough. It’s time to rebuild.
The Road to 2020 Movement gives us that hope that we get to rebuild and restore the generosity of our forests and give back. The Philippines is such a beautiful place, let’s take care of it.
Planting 1 million hectares of forests by the Year 2020 seems like a long shot.
I know it will take a lot of time and patience, and a whole lot of hard work, but we can, and we will. We just have to get out of our comfort zones and start taking little steps. The smallest things can make the biggest change. All it takes is one step.